Iranian Nuke Official: Tehran Will Scale Back Cooperation With U.N. Watchdog Agency

Iran (search) will scale back its cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog in response to the agency's Oct. 31 deadline for Tehran (search) to prove its atomic programs are peaceful, Iran's representative to the agency said Monday.

Ali Akbar Salehi said on state television that Iran had been allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) more oversight than required under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "to show our good will and transparency. On the strict orders of President Mohammad Khatami (search) we allowed IAEA inspectors to take environmental samples and visit non-nuclear sites.

"This has been beyond our obligations, but from now on we will act according to the current regulations," Salehi said.

Salehi did not elaborate. But in August, Iran allowed inspectors to visit a site it deemed non-nuclear -- the Kalay-e-Electric Co. in west Tehran. In June, inspectors were turned away from Kalay-e-Electric when they came to take environmental samples.

Iran allegedly has tested centrifuges, which are used to process uranium, at the site.

The United States has accused Iran of running a clandestine nuclear weapons program and wants the IAEA to declare Tehran in violation of the treaty.

A recent IAEA report to its board noted that traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium were found at an Iranian nuclear facility, and said tests run by Iran make little sense unless the country is pursuing nuclear weaponry.

Tehran insists its nuclear programs are designed to generate electricity and that its equipment was "contaminated" with enriched uranium by a previous owner.

The IAEA has pressed Iran to detail its nuclear program and sign an additional protocol letting agency inspectors conduct in-depth checks of nuclear facilities.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the agency did not yet have an official response to Iran's announcement. However, he stressed that the agency still hopes Iran will cooperate.

"We have called on Iran to provide accelerated cooperation in order for us to quickly get to the bottom of the outstanding questions surrounding their nuclear program," Gwozdecky said.

However, a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, conceded that Iran's announcement indicates it is not prepared to give the agency greater access to its nuclear sites -- and it could become even more difficult for the IAEA to get answers.

"If Iran has decided to do only the minimum, it doesn't sound like the accelerated cooperation the IAEA had called on it to provide," the diplomat said.

In Monday's interview, Salehi said Iran will continue talks with the IAEA on signing additional protocols concerning inspections.

Iran has said repeatedly it would agree to unfettered inspections if it is granted access to advanced nuclear technology as provided for under the nonproliferation treaty. Tehran says Washington is keeping Iran from getting that technology.

The IAEA's board of governors set the deadline on Sept. 12. The deadline was agreed to on the basis of IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei's report.

On Monday, Salehi criticized the decision to set a deadline but did not say whether Iran would try to meet it.

"Many members of IAEA were surprised that despite Iran's very good cooperation with the agency, some countries were pushing for a deadline," he said. "Irrespective of whether we oppose or agree to the deadline, setting a deadline from the logical point of view is unacceptable. Mr. ElBaradei was also opposed to the deadline."